Sunday, February 1, 2009

Stories in the Snow

How can you tell a grey squirrel's print from that of a cottontail rabbit?  In the squirrel's print the front feet are placed side by side; in the rabbit's they're one in front of the other.   Okay.  I already knew that.  But did I know why?  No, I didn't.  But I do now, thanks to Vince Walsh, ardent naturalist, highly skilled tracker, founder of Kawing Crow Awareness Center in Greenfield, NY, and one of the most engaging wildlife teachers I've ever met.

The leader of a tracking workshop conducted at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve yesterday, Vince not only knew his stuff, he also knew how to get the rest of us really engaged in tracking.  Even to the point of kneeling down to sniff the yellow snow.  Was it fisher pee?  Well, maybe.  There was a fisher trail. (See photo) But why would it pee right there where its trail crossed the hard-packed  snowshoe path?  Could it be a dog?  Dogs also trot along this path.  What does dog pee smell like?  Many of our group of about a dozen probably knew the answer to that, but only one of us put her nose right down there (not me, for once!) and pronounced the verdict: Dog!  So you see, you can't always tell just by looking.  Vince urged us to also use our noses, our ears, our fingers, our brains, our imaginations.

For example, imagine the rabbit escaping the fox: she scoots this way, then that, then that, zig-zagging across the grass until she dives down into her hole.  That's why her front feet are placed one behind the other, to enable faster turning.   Does the squirrel zig-zag across the grass as he high-tails away from your chasing dog and zips up the nearest tree?  Not on his furry life!  He plants those little front feet together and scoots in a beeline, as straight and fast as he can.  

We learned a lot of other things, too.  And had a lot of fun.  Many thanks to the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park, a sand plains and pitch pine preserve I often visit in warmer weather, when wild lupine and milkweed support the endangered Blue Karner butterflies.   And thanks again to Vince Walsh, teacher and tracker extraordinaire.  I plan to visit him, too, at his Kawing Crow Awareness Center.  He knows just an awesome amount of stuff about nature,  including where some ancient black tupelos grow. Eight-hundred-year-old black tupelos!  I want him to take me there.

Postscript:  I neglected to mention that this tracking workshop, offered free of charge, was sponsored by the Southern Adirondack Audubon Society and underwritten by Stewarts, Inc.
Many thanks all around.


tintin said...

You have a good nose. You should have taken the opportunity to compare!!

NatureGirl said...

I'm sorry I didn't know about this trip! I would've signed up. After reading your post I visited Vince's website and found out he has a tracking program at the Paul Smiths VIC in March. I've signed up, but so far I'm the only one. Maybe someone else who reads your blog will sign up, too! The last time I signed up, it was cancelled because I was the only participant. :(